Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Why do we ask? Because Senate majority leader Bill Frist today tried to invoke cloture on the Defense Appropriations Bill rather than take a roll-call vote on a number of amendments introduced by the Democrats. When he couldn't muster the sixty votes necessary to shut down debate, he yanked the appropriations bill off the table, as the Air Force Times here reports:
Please note: Sen. Frist did allow a roll-call vote on an amendment he had introduced himself, in support of the Boy Scouts. What, you may wonder, were these heinous amendments introduced by Democrats, which Frist so desperately hoped to quash before his Republican colleagues would have to go on the record opposing them? Let's pick a few at random:
Senate Republican leaders decided Tuesday that a gun manufacturers’ liability bill is more important than next year’s $441.6 billion defense authorization bill.
With Democrats expressing amazement that there could be any higher legislative priority in a time of war than the annual defense bill that includes money for pay and benefits, operations and maintenance, and weapons’ purchases and research, Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Senate Republican leader, decided Tuesday that a bill protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits over the illegal use of firearms was a higher priority.
The decision came after Republican leaders failed to muster the 60 votes needed to prevent amendments not strictly related to the defense budget from being offered to the defense bill.
In a count of 50-48, seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting not to restrict debate, a move that Democratic leaders said would have prevented consideration of amendments to help veterans and survivors of deceased service members, along with other issues.
And don't get us started on the other amendments -- provisions to preserve the all-volunteer army, contain the spread of WMD's, strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, secure Russia's nuclear arsenal, and bolster the translation capabilities of our overtaxed intelligence agencies. All of which are plainly low on the totem pole compared to Sen. Frist's Boy Scout amendment, or his bill to reward the gun lobby.
- Easing financial burdens for service members deployed abroad. When service members deploy to theaters of conflict such as Iraq and Afghanistan, they often experience significant difficulties in managing their financial obligations at home, including mortgage payments, credit card debt, and other bill payments. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was passed by Congress to help service members manage these obligations. Senator Bayh has offered several amendments to S. 1042 to increase protections and enforcement for service members under the SCRA. In addition, Senator Clinton has introduced an amendment to provide consumer education for military service members to help them manage their finances and avoid pitfalls such as predatory lending.
- Improving support for reservists' families. When National Guard and Reserve members are called to active service - as they have been at an unprecedented rate in the last few years - their families experience tremendous burdens, including figuring out how to provide care for children with one parent absent for an extended period. Senator Dayton has proposed an amendment to increase resources for assisting reservists' families with child care and to expand National Guard and Reserve Family Assistance Centers. Senator Murray has also introduced an amendment to authorize the Secretary of Defense to provide child care funding for dispersed Guard and Reserve families that do not have access to on-base child care during deployments.
- Providing financial stability for activated reservists. Guard and Reserve families also often experience severe financial strain when reservists are called to active duty. Many lose thousands of dollars in income when they leave behind their civilian jobs for active service. To address this strain, Senator Durbin has filed an amendment to require the federal government to pay any federal employees mobilized for active service in the Guard or Reserve the difference between their civilian and military salaries. This amendment will allow the government to set an example for private employers in supporting our reservists during a time of conflict.
- Guaranteeing adequate health care from the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA). The May 2003 report of The President's Task Force To Improve Health Care Delivery For Our Nation's Veterans found that "there is a significant mismatch in VA between demand and available funding - an imbalance that...if unresolved, will delay veterans' access to care and could threaten the quality of VA health care." Task Force members supported the creation of a funding mechanism providing guaranteed funding for VA health care each year. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has opposed Democratic efforts to enact the recommendation of the President's own commission and, as a result, the VA has been drastically shortchanged. Recently, VA Secretary Nicholson testified that the VA may experience a total funding shortfall for Fiscal Years 2005 and 2006 as great as $4.5 billion dollars. To enact the recommendation of the President's commission and ensure that our veterans receive adequate health care, Senator Stabenow has offered an amendment to provide guaranteed health care funding for the VA each year.
- Ensuring that the VA can provide health care for new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary Nicholson testified that an underestimation of the number of wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan was one major reason for the VA funding shortfall. Indeed, the Department of Defense has reported only roughly 13,500 casualties in Iraq, while the Air Force Surgeon General reports that 55,000 service members have been evacuated from Iraq, and Secretary Nicholson testified that over 100,000 veterans of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan will be treated by the VA this year. The discrepancy in these numbers demonstrates a serious problem in the Defense Department's casualty reporting system which makes it impossible for policymakers to accurately predict the resources the VA needs to ensure that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will receive the care they need. In response, Senator Johnson has introduced an amendment to improve the Defense Department's casualty reporting system in order to ensure that policymakers receive the information they need to fully support the newest generation of veterans.
- Eliminating the Military Widow's Tax. Congress took a significant step last year in adopting legislation proposed by Senator Landrieu to eliminate the reduction in Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities received by survivors of deceased service members when the survivors turn age 62. However, problems remain; namely, participants in the Dependents and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) Program see their SBP annuity reduced by one dollar for every dollar they receive in DIC benefits. This reduction unfairly taxes the widows and widowers of service members who greatly need our nation's support. Senator Bill Nelson has offered an amendment to eliminate this reduction and finally bring a complete end to the military widow's tax.
SIDEBAR: Is it possible to tear an asshole a new asshole? Watch Sen. Barbara Boxer test the proposition here (video courtesy of Crooks & Liars, via our distinguished colleague the Fixer at Alternate Brain).
UPDATE: In an explosive discharge, our purulent colleague Pusboy at Virtual Pus pops Mr. Frist's Boy Scout amendment wide open:
The Senate has passed legislation aimed at side-stepping a federal court ruling against the use of military bases as the host sites for Boy Scout events. The vote was unanimous, and comes a day after four Scout leaders were killed in an accident at Fort A-P Hill in Bowling Green, Virginia.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been challenging government sponsorship of scouting events, citing the Scouts’ ban against openly gay leaders and the requirement that scouts take an oath of duty to God.
In June, a federal judge ruled in the ACLU’s favor.